Holding on to Love is Paramount

Holding on to Love is Paramount

Love is defined as an intense feeling of affection. Those are the words that describe it, but the feeling is more complicated. People use the word often. It can describe how people feel about a friend, an animal, a wallpaper, a restaurant, or a city, just for starters. People use it to describe how we feel to our newborn baby. It can be a reaction to a movie or music.

It is a fascinating journey in my work to be with clients who did not feel loved growing up or questions their abilities to love someone as a partner.

When I ask new clients if a parent loved them, they will often say yes. I ask how the love was demonstrated and they say, “I had a home to live in, clothing was bought and meals were prepared.” 

I then ask if the love was demonstrated verbally or physically, and in about 60 percent of the cases, it was not. One never heard, “I love you” and was not hugged or kissed.

Does caretaking quality as love by a parent? And how does one learn to demonstrate love if it is not modeled?

There are people who say they have realized in their adult lives that they do not truly know what it feels like to be loved and they do not feel love toward their partner. 

For some, this is based on a background where they were cared for, but never had overt demonstrations of affection. 

For others, it was when positive regard was conditional. They had to fulfill the wants of the parents, or they were treated 

It is not an easy or quick process to change one’s relationship to love. I have met many who want to be able to love a partner or a child, but the ability to experience the feeling takes time. 

People often talk about the importance of the role modeling provided by our families of origin, but many do not realize what they missed until problems surface in other relationships.

Sometimes the issue of trust thwarts the ability to love. As cited above, if affection was conditional, one does not feel secure with displays of affection by others or by themselves. For foster children, this can prove a challenge. 

A foster parent can be very prepared to love and demonstrate affection, but a foster child may have memories of not being able to maintain a relationship they found desirable in their life. It can take time to develop the trust of the authenticity of the emotional exchange.

I advocate demonstrating love verbally and physically. Saying “I love you,” hugging, kissing, holding hands and spontaneous gestures of care, send a strong message. Each of us merits those feelings. 


Dr. Natalie Gelman is an Alameda-based therapist. Submit questions to drnataliegelman@gmail.com or through her website, www.drnataliegelman.com.